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Storrs — To a player, they’ve embraced their new coach.
They love his positive attitude, burning passion and relentless work ethic. They love the fact that he commands respect and demands excellence.
“Coach Ollie has been great,” said R.J. Evans, a guard from Salem. “He’s been supportive. … We know he has our backs. He believes in us and we believe in him.”
But will they still love Kevin Ollie as much after the UConn Huskies finish their first official basketball practice on Saturday?
One thing for sure, they expect Ollie to be as tough as recently retired coach Jim Calhoun whose punishing first day workouts achieved legendary status.
“You know there’s going to be a lot intensity,” sophomore Ryan Boatright said after completing the annual Husky Run on Thursday. “It can be the worst day on earth — cold, raining, snowing — and he’s going to have the best attitude that you’ll ever see. There will be a lot of clapping and cheering a lot of hard work and sweat going on.
“There’s probably going to be some blood because he’s going to want us to go hard. It’s going to be a great practice, but we’re going to get through it.”
Survival was on every player’s mind over the last 26 years when Calhoun ran his basketball boot camp. He pushed the Huskies to the limit and beyond.
Ollie vows to bring the best out his players, too.
“Coach Ollie played under Coach (Calhoun) and also was an assistant with Coach, so some of the things are going to be the same,” junior Shabazz Napier said. “But the thing that’s going to be different, Coach Ollie is going to put a different spice on it. … Coach Ollie is going to push you to the limits but he knows how to do it in a certain way that will help everybody.”
Ollie, who spent the last two years as an assistant coach under Calhoun, is still preaching UConn basketball. He’ll stress defense, rebounding and playing up-tempo basketball. He wants to out-will and out-work opponents. He won’t tolerate anything less than excellence.
But while he’s cut from the same cloth as Calhoun, Ollie will wear a different style.
“It’s like a suit,” Ollie said. “It’s the same material but you can make a suit 15 different ways. … I might wear mine as a European cut where Coach might wear his a little loose. It’s all good. It’s going to be fun. It also will be the same — defense, toughness, playing together.”
Ollie also is big on mottos, using a couple on Thursday when talking about his hard-working, team-first approach.
“Ten toes in, not five.”
“No days off.”
Actually, the Huskies will sort of get a break today, participating in First Night festivities at Gampel Pavilion. Doors open at 4 p.m.
In Saturday’s first practice, Ollie will set the tone for what he hopes will be a successful season. With a postseason ban, the Huskies will aim for a Big East regular season title.
“Saturday, they’re all mine,” Ollie said. “It should be fun. We’re going to enjoy it. … We want to be the best attitude team in America. That’s our goal. Not the best shooting team. We want to have the best attitude because we control that and everything else will fall into place.
“That’s our mindset going into Saturday. We’re going to compete. We’re going to play hard. We’ve got enough in this locker room, I truly believe that. We’re going to provide a lot of happy moments for our fans this year.”